There was a period in the history of the web when personalization was going to transform *everything* — making the buying experience vastly more inviting for customers and lucrative for business. I’m not really sure what happened.
Right now, the standard bearer for personalization is still Amazon. More to the point, most everyone else has fallen off. So to ‘research’ this article I went to Amazon and looked at all 720 of my recommendations. This took a very long time, and resulted in me adding a grand total of 4 items to my wish list (2 of which were albums I already had on tape but wanted to update to CD). To their credit, there were about 20 or so items that they recommended that I had already bought through other channels, but on the whole, the experience wasn’t too useful for ‘discovering’ new items.
So what killed personalization?
We at OKC are incredibly excited about the Apple announcements this week (actually, KC decided it might be more exciting to spend this week in Portugal and Spain, so I’m covering for him). Suffice it to say that after years of not being able to afford their products (’think different’-types often don’t have that much money), they’ve finally come out with some products I could just go pick up tomorrow. From the technology perspective, there is nothing new per se, but from the business perspective, the release of the ipod shuffle and mac mini are brilliant.
The ipod shuffle actually costs less than other flash players of comparable capacity, and will likely be an enormous seller. Given that 512MB jump drives go for $50 retail including their plasic housing, one can estimate that production cost are closer to $35. Now add a few buttons/switches, an audio amplifier, and an MP3/AAC decoder — and add $30 to that cost. After distribution and middleman, we are looking at $15-25 of profit for Apple. Not bad. Given the price, they could move 1-3 million units worldwide in the first year, with a net of between 15 and 75 million in profit. But even better than the money are the important inroads they will get to the PC market. The presence of an Apple product in so many homes could drive sales of the mac mini and other offerings.
Speaking of which, while the mac mini is certainly afforable as a computer, its positioning from the business perspective is less clear. Traditional mac enthusiasts and graphic/audio/video producers will not want to work on a 1.25GHz box with 256MB RAM. The consumers who might go for it are those who are looking at mid-priced machines from Dell. Also, long time PC users who are getting a 2nd or 3rd machine might consider it as well. Apple has never been successful in either of these markets historically, so the mac mini at least puts them in the game. All in all, it is a riskier business strategy than the ipod shuffle, but may certainly pay off.
Out in the community the reactions have been mixed. Gizmodo ran both the iProduct Spoof and its Rebuttal– but perhaps the most nuanced (and funny) critique I’ve run into so far came from a slashdot comment weeks ago. This is a well written satire:
“There was a time, not long ago, when you could tell everything that mattered about a person by his or her choice of operating system. You would notice a man at the local bistro with his titanium PowerBook and a deep garnet Merlot, and you instinctively knew: here is a man with a certain flair, a je ne sais quoi that makes his company worth your while. You’d wonder if the dark-clad woman striding down the street was your type; then you’d notice tucked under her arm a Duo 2300c, so retro and so delicously delicate, and you’d be smitten, simply devastated.” read the whole comment
Anyhow, two days after MacWorld, I took a quick inventory and saw 3 computers in my apartment and 6 in my office. Put into perspective, the prospect of getting another machine, even a very cute cube-ish one seemed a little less compelling. Although Steve Jobs had given me no excuse, I still felt some apprehension. Still, the shuffle still seems like a possibility, as long as I’m willing to start using iTunes/Musicmatch instead of the llama-kicking WinAmp.
What do the rest of y’all think?